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Community Cookin' - by Ron Skaar - May 2016


Community Cookin' - May 2016 

by Ron Skaar

by Ron Skaar with photo by Jon Russo

Our ancient ancestors huddled together around boiling open pits while roasting mammoth meat. Coals, dating from 20,000 B.C., identify these earthen ovens found in Central Europe. By the 5th and 6th century B.C., the Greeks were using enclosed ovens heated by wood.

Their hamlets usually baked bread in large communal ovens. The Greeks renowned “clay oven” was the first front loading furnace designed specifically for bread. Seventy-two different varieties of bread were available in Athens, at this time.

The ancient Romans dubbed the Greeks “bread eaters” but the first mass production of bread occurred in Rome. That is why a traditional direct fire masonry design is often called a “Roman” or “black oven”. Such ovens were in wide use throughout medieval Europe and were often built to serve entire communities. These ovens were often separate from other buildings, with some lying outside the city walls to mitigate the risk of fire. 

Housewives brought their dough in big wooden tubs and drew lots for the families bake time. The bake house became a village focal point where the woman socialized and exchanged views. The ovens remaining heat was used to dry fruit and nuts.

Sharing a community oven was common in Europe for centuries. Large communal ovens, dating back to the 14th and 15th were popular in Italy and France. But they did not always belong to the community. Most were the property of the local lord or in some cases the church. The surfs were charged for baking bread.

Meat pies, cakes and other dishes for festivals and holidays were prepared in big bread ovens. Families, who mainly cooked at their own hearths, would afford the few extra pennies necessary for these special meals.

In France, following the revolution, these ovens became the property of the villages and fees were no longer charged. Once a week the oven was fired up and the locals would bring dough prepared at home. Each family marked the top of dough with a distinctive mark or metal “tallies” to identify their finished loaves.

Nineteenth century English parishioners would bring along a Sunday “joint”, complete with accompaniments, to pop into the bakers oven on their way to church. After the service they would pick up their sizzling hunks of meat and carry them home on cloth covered trays.

Shared ovens appeared in the early New England colonies, but the practice never caught on. Native Americans taught the settlers how to roast wild meat over open flames, the birth of our fascination with barbeque. Now-a-days, grill masters like to satisfy crowds with their unique creations, sustaining the cause of cooking comradeship. 

May is “National B.B.Q. Month” and this Bobby Flay recipe should light yours up.  

Salmon Burger with Hoisin Barbecue Sauce

Serves 4

2 tablespoons canola oil 

2 large shallots and 2 gloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

½ cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons ketchup mixed with 2 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons soy sauce and 2 teaspoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

Heat oil in medium saucepan, add shallots and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add hoisin, ketchup, honey, soy sauce, fish sauce and vinegar and cook until slightly thickened.

1 ½ pounds of fresh salmon

2 tablespoons canola oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Coarsely chop salmon by hand or in food processor but do not over process. Divide salmon into 4 equal portions and form each portion into a ¾-inch-thick burger and make deep depression in center with thumb. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat oil in sauté pan or a cast iron griddle until it begins to shimmer. Season burgers with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown on the bottom sides. Turn over, brush with some hoisin barbeque sauce and continue cooking, about 3 more minutes. Serve on a toasted bun, top with by your favorite cabbage slaw.